Category: Insight

Future Voices: Q&A with Leon Davies of Goodery

Photo of leon davies featuring the Goodery logo

Welcome to the second instalment of RenEnergy’s Future Voices content series. Every month, we’ll be talking to a different individual with a clear vision on how we can safeguard the future of the planet. Our Future Voice this month is Leon Davies. Leon previously ran Norwich-based zero-carbon taxi firm, Zero Taxis. He now works as a consultant on green initiatives.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m Welsh by birth but have lived in Norfolk for the last twenty years. After leaving school at 16, I enjoyed a great military career for fifteen years. I eventually left the military to start a family and started working offshore. Here I gained specialist knowledge of oil and gas, but also renewable energies such as solar and wind.

Two years ago, as I was travelling in Holland, I got in an electric taxi at Schiphol Airport. It really inspired me, and I decided to see if I could do something similar in Norwich. With the support of Broadlands Council, I launched Zero Taxis.

Unlike other ‘green’ taxi firms, Zero Taxis didn’t just stop at electric vehicles. We used solar power and battery storage to charge the taxis overnight. You can’t get any cleaner than going from sun to solar, to battery, to car! The business was a great success, achieving rapid growth and multiple business award wins. However, I was still working offshore at the time and couldn’t keep up with the firm’s growth. So, last year Zero Taxis was acquired by one of Norwich’s largest taxi firms, ABC Taxis.

I still work as an electric vehicle consultant and am supporting ABC Taxis on their mission to create a fully EV fleet by 2025.

When Covid-19 happened, I also started work on a new venture. I was approached by a group of East Anglian entrepreneurs to create an organic food delivery solution for people shielding from coronavirus. I thought it sounded interesting, so I agreed to manage the logistics for Goodery. Over the last few months, this initiative has really taken off. We now deliver 100% organic groceries to over 400 local customers.

As well as being an entrepreneur, I’m also a family man. I have two sons, and I love rugby, Guinness, and doing what I can for the planet.

 

Can you tell us more about Goodery?

We created Goodery to provide those who were shielding from coronavirus with organic food, delivered straight to their doorstep.

Everything we sell is 100% organic, including fruit and vegetables, baked goods, coffee, eggs, and soap. That means absolutely no pesticides or chemicals. We believe that choosing organic produce is a vital way to protect the health of our planet. The quality of the world’s soil is failing due to intensive farming and pesticide use. Some scientists predict that the UK has just 100 fruitful harvests left. By choosing organic, we can all do our own bit to help maintain a plentiful food supply for many years to come.

Goodery’s operations are also 100% net zero emissions. Where possible, we use electric vehicles for transit and delivery. We offset any emissions we do create by planting trees. We’re also zero waste: we don’t use plastic, only reusable containers that our customers return to us when finished.

We know that cost is one of the biggest obstacles stopping customers from buying organic produce. As we refine our operations, we’re able to lower our prices weekly to support our customers and encourage more people to shop organic. Since we purchase our stock directly from organic farms, our farmers receive a greater profit share too. We source produce as locally as we can and currently work with organic farmers in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridge, and Hertfordshire. Twelve weeks in, we have already acquired Arthur’s Organics: a Norwich-based veg box delivery service launched in 2002. We also support local farmers that want to switch back organic farming methods.

Since launching, the reception for Goodery has been amazing and we’ve received some amazing reviews. We have already outgrown our premises and moved to a larger industrial unit. Our goal now is to reach 2,000 customers in a year.

 

What are some achievable steps that businesses or organisations can take to operate more sustainably?

Firstly, if your business owns its own roof, why wouldn’t you put solar there? In my opinion, it’s a no-brainer. It allows businesses to save money on their energy bill and do their bit for the environment. Securing your own method of on-site energy generation also allows you to future proof your business.

For those that can afford it, swapping to EVs can make a huge impact to your business’s carbon footprint. In just two years, Zero Taxis prevented over 100 tonnes of C02 from entering the atmosphere.

Other than cost, I know that one of the greatest obstacles to EV adoption is range anxiety. As an EV consultant, I work with a lot of big businesses that are greening their fleet with EV. I provide training on EV charging, and support to alleviate range anxiety. After trying an EV and receiving just a little more education, most businesses find that the typical EV range is suitable for their needs.

And finally, I advise all companies to check out what government grants and tax reliefs are available for implementing green measures in your business.

 

What sort of green future would you like to see for East Anglia?

I believe that if the council got behind it, Norwich could be a frontrunner for EVs. Our city is home to a lot of forward-thinking people who can make a change, but the council needs to open the door.

Although Norwich is a green city overall, regions such as Oxfordshire and Dundee put us to shame. These councils have really bought into EV technology, and so have set up the required networks. Our local authority, on the other hand, can be a little slow to embrace change. Norwich, especially the Prince of Wales Road area, is very polluting. If you’d like to make a difference, start by writing to your MP and asking why we have 15-year-old buses on our roads. The technology is available for EV or at least hybrid buses, now we need the infrastructure.

Personally, I’d like to see more people take small steps to action positive change for the planet. We could all afford to live the way we did 40-50 years ago: walking more, eating local and organic produce, and taking holidays within the UK. If everyone did what they were comfortable with, together we could create a sizable and sustainable impact for the planet.

 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewee. If you’d like to be part of RenEnergy’s Future Voices series, email Melissa

How solar PV can increase the profitability of your business

Increasing profits is always a priority for businesses, but it may feel like the coronavirus pandemic is causing business growth to falter. Although the economy has recovered fractionally in recent weeks, it’s still all a little up in the air. Whether you’re B2B or B2C, selling more simply may not be possible right now.

Of course, increasing sales isn’t the only way to increase profits. This article will explore how tightening up your overheads with an investment in solar PV can increase the profitability of your business. Make your finances work smarter, not harder: just because your top line can’t grow doesn’t mean your bottom line can’t.

 

Solar PV: a small tweak to tighten the purse strings

Since we’ll be using these financial terms a lot, let’s start with a quick recap. Top line refers to a company’s revenue, or how efficient it is at selling. Its bottom line, on the other hand, represents how efficiently a business manages its operating costs. As explained by Investopedia, the top line “does not take into consideration operating efficiencies which could have a dramatic impact on the bottom line.”

Ideally, a business’s top and bottom line grow in tandem to generate a profit. But, if you can’t grow the top line, improving one’s bottom line is another way to increase profit. Introducing on-site renewable energy generation, such as on-site solar PV, is a small tweak that can improve a business’s bottom line, and therefore its profitability. Increasing one’s top line typically takes a lot more effort.

For example, say your business has a profit margin of 20%. This means that you need to sell £5 worth of products or services to generate a £1 profit. However, gaining a £1 efficiency on one’s bottom line immediately equates to £1 in profit.

Simply put, it’s easier to increase one’s bottom line than the top line. However, in our experience, many businesses neglect or forget this, especially among smaller companies. We’ve seen many businesses leaders run themselves ragged trying to increase their revenue. This approach simply isn’t sustainable, and not necessarily effective. An increase in sales may not always equate to an increase in profitability since selling more usually comes with the associated costs of manufacturing or delivering more services.

 

Energy efficiency and the bottom line

As we mentioned above, the top line does not consider inefficiencies that could be hindering business growth. For many businesses, this could be something as seemingly simple as energy inefficiency.

According to BEIS’s SME Guide to Energy Efficiency, “almost a third of small firms highlight the cost of energy as a barrier to the growth and success of their business.” The guide goes on to state that “the average SME could reduce its energy bill by 18-25% by installing energy efficiency measures”.

Improving energy efficiency for a business isn’t just about improving energy consumption (although this is a good place to start). As a strategy for bottom line improvement, it goes beyond switching to LED lightbulbs and upgrading inefficient machinery., Solar PV provides a long-term financial saving by cutting a business’s spend on grid energy. Whilst the cost of grid energy is volatile and always rising, solar PV helps protect your business from erratic market fluctuations, providing the stability needed for sustainable growth

Ultimately solar is a very safe investment. No matter what’s going on in the world, the sun will always continue to shine.

 

Profitability and Power Purchase Agreements

Although purchasing and installing your own solar system will deliver a fantastic return on investment, this isn’t a possibility for every business. Any long-term financial savings are preceded by an immediate outlay, particularly in an uncertain economic climate.

However, businesses without immediately available capital can still benefit from solar through a Power Purchase Agreement. Under a PPA, the solar installer rents the customer’s roof space and uses it for solar. The client keeps their existing grid supply arrangement but purchases the solar energy through the installer. The efficiencies of onsite generation mean that solar energy can be sold cheaper Th than the going market rate, and therefore the client saves money, improving their bottom line without any upfront investment. At the end of the lease, ownership of the panels transfers to the customer and they receive 100% of the benefit at no additional cost.

While purchasing solar provides customers with a larger annual saving, PPAs have their own unique benefits.  Installing solar on your own premises can cause an increase in business rates, but under a PPA much of this increase can be mitigated, and it is the installer that is liable to pay it, the building owner is exempt. Additionally, under a PPA contract servicing and maintenance is included, so there are no unexpected bills, you simply pay less for the energy you use. Regular cleaning and servicing help ensure an array is performing at its peak, increasing its efficiency. Finally, as there is no initial investment you are not impacting your balance sheet, leaving your borrowing capacity available for core operational spend.

 

The bottom line

While this article unashamedly focuses on the financial benefits of solar, for many businesses this isn’t the driving motivation.

Regardless of whether a company chooses Capex or PPA solar, the overwhelming benefit is the ability to green your business. If the UK is to meet its demanding carbon reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement, every company must do its bit.

Solar panels are a clear indicator of your business’s commitment to reducing its environmental footprint. With stakeholders such as customers and partners also becoming increasingly environmentally aware, embracing renewables could be what gives your company the cutting edge over its competition.

What happened to the green economic recovery?

plant growing from money representing green recovery concept

Since February 2020, the UK economy suffered a 25% collapse due to the coronavirus pandemic, with over a quarter of UK employees on furlough at the height of the crisis.

It became clear early on that the government would need to create a strategy for the UK to recover from the economic impact of coronavirus. Since then, many voices have called for this recovery to be a ‘green’ one.  Although fighting coronavirus is an immediate challenge, the long-term threat of climate change remains. If we require stimulated economic intervention anyway, why not combine it with a strategy to cut the country’s carbon emissions? After all, it is our cavalier attitude to waste, production, and consumerism that drive climate change.

This desire for a green recovery is not just buzzwords posed by thinktanks and environmental organisations, either. A report by the Climate Assembly UK, published in the Guardian, states that most people would continue with the lifestyle changes necessitated by coronavirus to tackle climate change.

In the run up to the government’s economic announcements, it seemed like the UK waited for news of its green recovery almost optimistically. However, Boris Johnston’s New Deal for Britain and Rishi Sunak’s summer economic statement left a lot to be desired. While both gave a nod to environmental initiatives, it certainly wasn’t the climate-centric approach we hoped for. Especially not when you consider the amount of effort (and investment) our European neighbours are deploying in the climate change fight.

 

What has the Government promised?

As part of his New Deal, Boris Johnston announced a £40 million investment for local conservation projects. As well as creating 3,000 environment jobs and safeguarding a further 2,000, this also includes a provision for tree planting. The Prime Minister promised plans to plant over 75,000 acres of trees a year by 2025.

In his summer statement, Rishi Sunak’s presented a strategy to improve energy efficiency in UK buildings. The Green Homes Grant provides £2bn for homeowners to improve the energy efficiency of their home through insulation. As well as cutting household energy bills and improve living conditions, this would also cut carbon emissions. A further £1bn is earmarked for improving the energy efficiency of social housing and public sector buildings.

While both these initiatives are positive, it’s disappointing that these small nods are the full extent of the government’s green interventions. In fact, most of their plans for economic recovery focus on polluting and carbon-intensive activities that are not in line with the UK’s climate change targets.

 

The shortcomings

When you look at the rest of the UK’s plans for economic recovery, Sunak’s Green Homes Grant and Boris Johnson’s tree planting promise look like greenwashing: small environmental tokens designed to make the rest of the government’s plans appear palatable.

The message attached to the Prime Minister’s New Deal is “build, build, build”. The strategy promises funding for developing the UK’s roads, railways, town centres and highstreets, hospitals, and educational institutions. While green developments of such infrastructure are possible, it doesn’t seem like this is the government’s intention. Not only is infrastructure construction polluting and carbon-intensive, it further embeds us into high carbon systems. What we need is system reform.

Some environmental campaigners are even calling the government’s strategy “unlawful”. They claim that the proposed infrastructure development would be impossible while fulfilling the UK’s obligations to the Paris Agreement, which are legally binding.

While we wholly support an effort to make the UK’s homes more energy-efficient, implementing subsidies is not a perfect solution. Such schemes are short-term, acting as more of a sticking plaster. Our homes may be more energy-efficient, but unless we also see an attitude and education shift, many households will continue with the same carbon-intensive behaviour.

 

Could we learn from Germany’s green recovery plan?

Many environmental activists have decried the government’s economic plans, stating that it is categorically not a green recovery. Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, told the Financial Times that Riski Sunak’s announcements were “dwarfed by green recovery commitments in Germany and France”.

Germany, in particular, has pulled out all the stops with its truly green economic recovery plan. The German government has announced a €130bn stimulus package to kickstart its economy, featuring at least €40bn for climate initiatives.

Crucially, Germany’s plans incorporate decarbonising infrastructure reform. Germany’s €40bn climate fund includes at least €7bn for hydrogen infrastructure. Using existing gas pipelines, hydrogen is a clean fuelling option where electric vehicles are inappropriate (lorries, industrial vehicles, etc). The only by-product is clean water, but this solution is very energy intensive and requires a lot of renewable energy.

The German government also doubled the subsidy for purchasing electric vehicles to €6,000. Since Germany manufactures a lot of its own cars, this is a doubly smart move for stimulating its economy

 

A missed opportunity

The coronavirus pandemic has provided many people with an unusual opportunity to evaluate their habits. Early on, the crisis sparked an increased understanding of the severity of the climate change risk; 70% of Britons surveyed said they believed global warming is as serious as coronavirus.

This increased awareness and willingness to adapt provides a unique moment in the climate change fight. This could have been the tipping point for the long-term behavioural change required to fight climate change. And yet, the government’s recovery strategies risk squandering the opportunity.

Many climate and environmental experts have their own opinions on what’s missing from the government’s economic recovery. Personally, we find the lack of mention of offshore wind jarring. The UK is a world leader in this renewable energy form, and yet there are no plans to upgrade or expand the infrastructure. Additionally, it seems that no provision has been made for greater training and apprenticeships in the renewables space.

So far, the UK’s plans for economic recovery leave a lot to be desired. However, it’s possible that more initiative will be announced as the summer progresses. The government’s National Infrastructure Strategy is now 18 months overdue. Let’s hope that this plan for “core economic infrastructure, including energy networks, road and rail, flood defences and waste” has greening our country’s infrastructure at its heart.

What is the Doughnut Economy and how does it apply to climate change?

doughnuts on white background representing doughnut economy

In our Future Voices Q&A with Dr Nigel Hargreaves, we touched upon an interesting idea: the Doughnut Economy. Much of Nigel’s work as a systems architect is inspired by this new economic theory. We were intrigued by the concept, so we decided to investigate further. Here’s what we found out about the Doughnut Economy, how it applies to businesses, and where renewable energies like solar PV come in.

 

The Doughnut Economy, Explained

The concept of the Doughnut Economy was created by economist Kate Raworth in 2012.

Prior to the doughnut model, many of our existing economic theories (Keynesian, Monetarist, etc) were over 100 years old. Economic growth was measured only by an increasing GDP, ignoring the finite nature of earth’s resources and the consequences of our actions.

Raworth wanted to create an economic model fit for the 21st century. The central theme of the Doughnut Economy is balance: the theory postulates that a thriving human existence is only possible by considered use of available resources. Use too much, and we risk catastrophic effects that are harmful to human life. However, using earth’s resources unwisely can also lead to a shortfall, with humans existing in danger and hardship.

The ‘doughnut’ is the safe zone between these two extremes. It represents the ability to thrive economically, with the following social foundations being met for all people:

  • Water
  • Food
  • Health
  • Education
  • Income & work
  • Peace & justice
  • Political Voice
  • Social equity
  • Gender equality
  • Housing
  • Networks
  • Energy

This model is relevant to any group negotiating the balance between economic growth and powerful social change: governments, local authorities, NGOs, charities, and businesses. Its creator, Kate Raworth states that the theory “acts as a compass for human progress this century.” A 2018 study found that so far, over 150 nations have used the Doughnut Model. In fact, Amsterdam is embracing doughnut theory to plan its post-Covid economic recovery.

What happens if we overshoot on our resource budget?

Overshooting, or using too much of our available planetary resources, comes with drastic consequences:

  • Climate change
  • Ocean acidification
  • Chemical pollution
  • Nitrogen & phosphorus loading
  • Freshwater withdrawals
  • Land conversion
  • Biodiversity loss
  • Air pollution
  • Ozone layer depletion

For each of these consequences, the model provides a specific target based on the relevant planetary boundary. Unfortunately (but unsurprisingly) we are already overshooting on several planetary resources. For example, the model budgets 350 ppm of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. However, our current proportion of atmospheric C02 is 450 ppm and rising.

According to the doughnut model, we have used so much of our available resources that we are now in danger of significant global warming, biodiversity loss, nitrogen and phosphorus loading, and the consequences of land conversion (converting wild areas into economic ones, such as farms or roads).

 

What about an undershoot (AKA the hole in the doughnut)?

If we undershoot, or use our planetary resources incorrectly, we are unable to ensure the necessary social foundations are met across human life. In real terms, this means people living without access to plentiful food, clean water, and essential healthcare access.

Of course, this is already the way of life for billions of people worldwide. The interactive Doughnut Economy model reveals just how many people are already experiencing the ill-effects of an undershoot.

  • Eleven percent of the population is undernourished
  • Forty-six percent of countries have an infant mortality rate exceeding 25 per 1,000 live births, and 39% of countries have a life expectancy of less than 70 years
  • Fifteen percent of adults are illiterate, and 17% of children aged 12-15 are out of school
  • Twenty-nine percent of people live on less than $3.10 a day (the international poverty limit). A further 13% of young people are seeking but unable to find work.
  • A massive 85% of the population resides in countries judged ‘corrupt’ by the Corruption Perceptions Index. Thirteen percent of the population resides in countries with a high homicide rate: 10 or more per 10,000.
  • Fifty-two percent of the population resides in countries where they lack a political voice, according to the Voice and Accountability Index.
  • Thirty-nine percent of the population live in countries without social equity: a lack of justice and fair social policy.
  • There are 56% more men than women in national parliaments, and the worldwide earnings gap between men and women is 23%.
  • Twenty-four percent of the global urban population lives in slums.
  • Twenty-for percent of the population say they have no one to count on in times of trouble, and 57% of the population have no access to the internet.
  • Seventeen percent of the population lacks access to electricity, and 38% lack cooking facilities.
  • Finally, 9% of the population have no access to improved drinking water and 32% lack improved sanitation.

While these figures are startling, they are not the full extent of the problem. As we understand it, these figures don’t account for the individuals who are already suffering or displaced due to the effects of climate change, rising sea levels, deforestation, or other dangerous scenarios that sit on the outside of the doughnut.

 

The sweet spot

The doughnut-shaped space in the middle of the model is what we should strive for: a thriving global existence that avoids the catastrophic implications of overusing earth’s natural resources.

While the Doughnut Economy is most applicable on a macro level to economists and policy makers, businesses can also engage with the doughnut model on a micro scale. For certain organisations, such as organic food producers or companies building better lives for their international suppliers, their link to the doughnut is clear. However, there are ways for all businesses to engage with this framework.

Female-led business resource, The Big Whisper, has put together some questions that business leaders should ask themselves in order to apply the spirit of Doughnut Economics to their organisation:

  1. What core emotional and/or social need(s) are we helping others to meet through what we are offering?
  2. What are we doing to ensure no environmental harm with how we’re producing and selling our goods and services?
  3. What are we doing to ensure we are giving back to the ecosystem that we are taking part in?

When it comes to minimising the environmental harm created through business operations, embracing renewable energy is a simple and cost-effective option. A modest 50 kWp solar array (suitable for a small factory or similar) has the potential to save 13,500 kg of C02 every year. Even a small domestic array can save 1,200 kg of carbon a year. Without solar PV, that carbon would end up in the atmosphere, meeting planetary resource limits and contributing to global warming.

Embracing the Doughnut Economy requires work and change. However, coming to terms with environmental responsibility is a small price to pay for a thriving economy, population, and planet.

What do you think about the idea of the Doughnut Economy? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

 

A guide to SCATTER for local authorities

The path to net-zero may seem like a complex one. The target itself – reducing and offsetting all carbon emissions produced by a building or organisation – is almost overwhelming. Fortunately, there are several organisations and resources that can help. SCATTER is a free tool designed to help local authorities map and reduce their carbon footprint. Here’s everything local authorities need to know about SCATTER…

What is SCATTER?

SCATTER is an online tool for local authorities. It stands for:

Setting City Area Targets and Trajectories for Emissions Reduction.

The SCATTER framework helps local authorities and city councils set targets in line with the Paris Agreement: to cap global warming at 1.5°C, global carbon emissions must balance at net zero by 2050.

SCATTER allows local authorities to calculate their carbon emissions. Once calculated, the tool helps authorities plot pathways and trajectories to different carbon scenarios through interventions. For example, it can help local authorities understand how much carbon would be saved through tree planting or managing livestock emissions.

Because SCATTER is a standardised framework, the results from different local authorities may be compared. This helps provide a detailed picture of emissions and pathways across the UK.

SCATTER was developed by the Antithesis Group in partnership with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Nottingham City Council and The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. The tool was originally piloted with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

The tool is free and simple to use; anyone with a .gov.uk email address can create an account.

 

How does SCATTER work?

The SCATTER tool has two main features: inventory and pathways.

The inventory feature allows local authorities to capture a detailed understanding of their carbon emissions by inputting certain details into the tool. According to SCATTER, “creating a greenhouse gas inventory for a local authority allows an organisation to identify the sources of their emissions and where to focus action.”

The inventory feature also serves another purpose. Recording emissions data in the SCATTER inventory allows local authorities to disclose these figures to important third-party organisations like CDP. By publicly disclosing environmental data, CDP helps keep thousands of countries, businesses, and organisations accountable for their environmental impact.

Once a local authority has assessed its carbon inventory, the pathways tool helps them develop a journey towards decarbonisation. It helps local authorities plot what their carbon footprint could look like up to 2050, depending on different levels of intervention. For example, what it would take for them to half their carbon footprint, or to achieve net zero. This can then help them set targets and plan a strategy.

The data from SCATTER can be exported in visual reports and resources, useful for educating and onboarding stakeholders.

 

Are there any limitations to SCATTER?

SCATTER cannot tell local authorities how much it would cost to implement any of the carbon-saving interventions in the pathways feature. As you might expect, there are too many variables for each local authority.

Despite its simplicity, SCATTER is not yet used by all local authorities across the UK. If more city councils and authorities used the framework, we would have a much clearer picture of the UK’s threat to climate change, and the action needed.

 

Why is recording and reporting carbon emissions so important in the fight against climate change?

According to the UK Green Building Council, there is often a discrepancy between the modelled and measured C02 savings from offset initiatives. This gap means that businesses, organisations, and even countries, may believe they’re operating much more greenly than they are. This is reiterated by CDP, who states “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”.

Once a local authority has obtained a carbon emissions report from the inventory feature, there’s a lot they can do with this information. SCATTER says their data may be used alongside carbon budgeting reports created by the Tyndall Centre. These reports provide local authorities with a carbon ‘budget’ in line with the targets of the Paris Agreement. It also informs local authorities how quickly they will use up this allotted carbon if they continue without making interventions.

These projected overshoots make for frightening reading. Here’s what the report has to say about Norwich, a city that is overall pretty green:

“At 2017 CO2 emission levels, Norwich will exceed the recommended budget available within seven years from 2020. To stay within the recommended carbon budget Norwich will, from 2020 onwards, need to achieve average mitigation rates of CO2 from energy of around -12.7% per year.”

If we continue to overshoot our allotted carbon budget, the planet will keep getting warmer. It is already too late to stop global warming completely in its tracks. Summer 2020 has seen record temperatures of 38 degrees C in the Siberian Arctic. Scientists had not anticipated such a temperature rise until 2100, indicating that the planet is heating much faster than anticipated.

The Paris Agreement attempts to cap global warming at 1.5°C because a greater increase than this poses a very real threat to human existence. Utilising the SCATTER tool allows local authorities to gain a clearer understanding of their carbon footprint. Only when they know the scale and cause of the problem can they devise a suitable solution.

Future Voices: Q&A with Dr. Nigel Hargreaves

Photo of Nigel Hargreaves with Synfo logo

Welcome to a new series of articles from RenEnergy: Future Voices. Every month, we’ll be talking to a different individual with a clear vision on how we can safeguard the future of the planet. Our Future Voice this month is Dr. Nigel Hargreaves: chair of local renewables cooperative, Norwich Community Solar, and consultant systems architect. 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a Norwich-based chartered engineer, and I currently work across several different roles, each one related to improving our environment and tackling climate change.

I am a systems architect and operate my own consultancy, Synfo Ltd. I work alongside businesses and organisations, helping them play their part in meeting carbon reduction and sustainability targets.

Much of my consultancy thinking is based on the idea of the Doughnut Economy. This is a circular economic system that strives to fulfil human needs including social, environmental and economic justice, without overshooting available natural resources and regenerative capacities. An overshoot results in scenarios such as climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss. Undershoots are also evident in areas such as social and economic justice.

I use my understanding of complex systems to promote change ‘on the ground’ and am particularly interested in local solutions. Synfo’s work has covered a wide range of applications from smart grids and smart cities to community energy. It has also contributed to publications by the UEA on visions for sustainable futures and the Green Party’s plans for decarbonising the East of England. With abundant offshore and onshore wind and solar in East Anglia, I believe there is much to be done in bringing the right stakeholders together to develop a clean energy industry here. This could involve renewable electricity, hydrogen and a coastal waters seagrass industry to contribute to carbon drawdown. After all, we have a county-wide carbon budget of only 27.9Mtonnes CO2 (not including aviation, shipping and land-use emissions) to last us until 2100. This figure comes from the SCATTER model developed to help local authorities understand what their budget would be under our national commitment to the Paris Agreement.

Other parts of my work include Norwich Community Solar, whose mission is to provide community facilities with cost-effective, renewable energy. As the Chair, I have had the pleasure of seeing membership grow considerably, despite challenges posed by unsupportive government policies. I’m also part of two new start-ups. I am helping Goodery to set up the best system for fulfilling customer demand for good food through a zero-carbon, local economy. I also support XLwerks, a group of architects, sustainability consultants and system thinkers, collaborating to offer designs on sustainable built environments.

 

How did you end up where you are now?

My career path is a long and varied one! As an engineering graduate in the 1980s, I became an apprentice aircraft mechanic for British Airways and developed software for the Boeing 757. I wanted to give something back, so after seven years I left for Bangladesh with the Voluntary Service Overseas. Here I worked on renewable energy projects and designed an engine powered by waste rice husks. This experience taught me a lot about resilience; I saw some of the world’s poorest people survive by sharing and collaborating in creative ways. This sparked my interest in the interconnection between social, environmental, economic and technical systems.

From there, I went to Sudan, where I had my first experience of solar PV. Based in a remote part of the country with no infrastructure, I installed solar arrays to power electric water pumps.

On returning to England, I joined a workers cooperative, manufacturing equipment for environmental science. Delta-T Devices help develop better systems around growing food. I founded the international technical support and training part of the business.

Following a lot of overseas travel, work and health issues, I wanted to try something different. Interested in alternatives to pharmaceutical dependency, I trained as a homeopath and worked in an alcohol and drug rehabilitation centre in Norwich in the early ’00s as well as seeing private clients.

Following this, I used my dual nationality to move to Australia. I worked as a site engineer at a permaculture farm growing organic produce. I then revisited my previous experience of renewables, becoming a project manager for a firm installing domestic solar thermal systems.  While in Australia, I suffered a serious accident: I broke my back and nearly died. I felt I was given a second chance; from here I decided to use my skills to help others live healthier and more sustainable lives.

I returned to the UK and enrolled on a Masters degree at Brunel University studying climate change impacts and sustainability. This was around 2008, and climate change was becoming a big topic. My global travel had shown me the environmental and social impacts of global warming, and I knew I wanted to help. Getting a distinction, I was fortunate enough to receive PhD funding from the National Grid and the EPSRC to research how smart electricity grids can be developed. This eventually led me back to Norwich where I did research at UEA into the sociotechnical aspects of smart grid adoption, culminating in a report revealing how different understandings of the meaning of smart are presented by different smart grid users.

Since completing my research, I have worked as a consultant within several organisations, including the Energy Systems Catapult, exploring the integration of heat into electricity decarbonisation. I also worked with Pixie Energy in Norwich: a renewable energy consultancy born from energy analyst, Cornwall Insight. Here I worked on local energy markets and advised the Scottish Government on how to support community energy initiatives.

Following these consultancy projects, I launched Synfo Ltd and joined Norwich Community Solar.

 

Can you tell us more about the Doughnut Economy?

Donut economy diagramIn my opinion, one must take the view that achieving change requires intervention in complex systems. The notion of net-zero, for example, opens a box of interconnecting systems: food and its supply chain, energy, transport, infrastructure, etc. They must all align or trying to reach the target will be like a game of ‘whack-a-mole’. As soon as one problem is resolved, another will pop up elsewhere working against it. Sustainability on the other hand, is about striking a regenerative balance.

The challenge is not complicated, but it is complex. Our current methods of tackling climate change aren’t working, so we need to use more systems-based approaches. For example, our current economic model is linear: we make items, use them, and throw them away. Waste happens all along the lifecycle and is polluting our air, water and food chains, creating issues for biodiversity and toxicity, as well as global warming. A more circular economy (like the Doughnut model) closes this loop and prevents wasted resources. A climate change solution that adheres to a linear economic narrative, or siloed thinking, simply cannot be effective. This means opening to the emergence of distributed clean energy networks and embracing the collaborative economy with interdependent systems such as food, transport housing and water for example. We need integrative systems design for a resilient and sustainable future where we can thrive without compromising the existence of species in the future.

 

Can you tell us about an interesting climate change project happening in East Anglia?

East Anglia has some of the best conditions for developing a clean energy industry in the UK, if not the world. I see offshore wind as having the greatest impact here but we are missing out on opportunities to turn some of that energy into a local clean energy industry that powers our local economy as well as exports to the rest of the country. We must start to work together to set out our priorities beyond temporary disturbance to the look of the countryside, by understanding the necessity of a zero-carbon economy. Of course, onshore wind and solar (prioritising rooftop installations initially) will complement offshore wind, but I see the integration with our local economy and supportive government policies being the enablers of such sustainable transformation.

 

What are some achievable steps that businesses or organisations can take to operate more sustainably?

There are many great organisations that can help businesses transit from a linear and polluting model into a greener and more circular one. Science Based Targets is one such organisation.

Their mission is to drive “ambitious corporate climate action” by helping businesses set targets for operating more sustainably. This has now been extended to SMEs. As the name suggests, these targets are created in line with the latest research on climate change and require businesses to track and report their progress.

I believe businesses also have a responsibility to fundamentally understand the consequences of their actions, including designing-out waste in their processes. While systems-based change for sustainability should be led by local authorities, that doesn’t always happen. We need entrepreneurial and open-minded thinkers to step up and contribute their expertise to designing the changes required that are compatible with our local resources and overarching goals.

 

What sort of green recovery would you like to see happening?

There are many civil, commercial and local government stakeholder groups in East Anglia, each with their own green initiatives and agendas. But what’s missing is coordinated action in line with the realities posed by the limited carbon budget we have according to our central government pledges and policy commitments. To reach net zero by 2050 even is a terrifying challenge that we haven’t yet got to grips with, but will depend in a large part upon the availability of clean energy for everything.  We don’t have enough cross-stakeholder collaboration, let alone aligned local policy objectives and business synergies around sustainable economy.

I’d like to see a forum where these groups can agree on a green strategy that allows our region to thrive while setting targets in line with the Paris Agreement. Ideally, these local organisations, including community enterprises would be financially rewarded by central government, and granted more of their own decision-making powers for local matters. There are some great stakeholder groups in the region. Together we are greater than the sum of our parts, with the power to decide our own future.

 

Do you have any future predictions on how businesses and organisations will engage with renewable energy or tackle climate change?

I believe there will be winners and losers in the future of energy. Local generation will become the norm. Rather than a centralised energy system, there will be a network of nodes: small renewable ‘power stations’, even down to an individual house level, generating energy for their local areas. This system is much more resilient: one node may fail, but the rest of the system remains safe.

Those that don’t engage with distributed energy models will be the losers. Organisations that embrace local generation and/or install their own renewables solutions will have a better chance of success.

Overall, I think we’ll see more bottom-up impetus for tackling climate change. People will be increasingly anxious to drive change (in the absence of centralised leadership affecting local requirements) within their local environment to meet sustainability targets. We’ll see people engaging with education, the built environment, energy, transport, and food systems to action collective change. As carbon and other forms of pollution advance relentlessly, I hope the lessons learnt from lockdown, that dramatic change is possible if we focus on the right measures and issues, will be developed and widely implemented. But we need to work together to address the complex system involved and the Doughnut model, scaled for our locale or region, could be a great framework to capture the problem and illustrate the pathways we will have to develop.

 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewee. If you’d like to be part of RenEnergy’s Future Voices series, email Melissa

Embracing renewables with the Green Building Council

The UK Green Building Council is a non-profit organisation concerned with improving the sustainability of the built environment. Its members include some of the UK’s largest and most influential businesses. Here’s what the UK Green Building Council has to say about renewable energy, and why it matters.

What is the UK Green Building Council?

The UK Green Building Council (GBC) is a cross-sector membership organisation promoting sustainability in the built environment. The ‘built environment’ refers to any manmade structure where people live and work. The GBC provides resources and support to its members, usually businesses and public sector organisations, as they become more environmentally conscious.

One of the biggest missions of GBC is to assist in the creation of a net zero carbon economy by 2050. As established in the Paris Agreement, ceasing or offsetting 100% of our C02 emissions by 2050 is the only way to prevent global warming exceeding 1.5°C. Global warming is happening, but capping it at 1.5° will help to avoid the most catastrophic of side effects.

If we are to achieve net zero by 2050, the GBC believes we must account for and offset all carbon impacts from the built environment. Their research found that the operation of existing buildings contributed 30% of the UK’s carbon emissions in 2017.

To support its members on their journey to net zero, GBC has produced a comprehensive framework outlining the required processes. In it, they give much attention to the importance of renewable energy. In their opinion, generating renewables on-site is a priority, and preferable to purchasing green energy from other sources.

 

The role of renewables

The GBC’s framework offers a five-point plan for achieving net zero in the built environment:

  1. Establish net zero carbon scope
  2. Reduce the impact of construction
  3. Reduce operational energy use
  4. Increase renewable energy supply
  5. Offset any remaining carbon

As you can see, reducing the UK’s overall consumption by improving energy efficiency is the top priority. The remaining energy demand should be sourced from renewables to prevent C02 emissions. However, moving away from fossil fuels to electricity will place additional demand on the grid. Therefore, any building that can do so, should be proactive in securing their own onsite renewable energy supply and reduce their burden on the network

The GBC makes it clear that self-generated renewables are preferable to the use of solar and wind farms. Even switching to a 100% renewable energy tariff from your supplier, while an ethical and sensible choice, won’t reduce your carbon emissions as much as on-site solar due to its reliance on an ageing and inefficient energy network.

Promoting self-generation helps support a decentralised energy system, resulting in reduced demand on the grid and reduced transmission and distribution losses. It also preserves greenfield sites, as it reduces the need for solar farms etc. Implementing onsite renewables also increases the value of a property and is a valuable asset for reselling.

 

Reporting and monitoring energy use

The GBC makes it clear that generating renewable energy is an essential step on the journey towards net zero. Unfortunately, there is often a gap between modelled and measured results when it comes to the C02 offset of solar PV arrays. This is problematic: we can’t achieve net zero if we don’t know how much carbon we’re dealing with.

To combat this, the GBC member framework emphasises the importance of tracking how much carbon is offset. Where possible, buildings should rely on measurement systems, not estimated figures. In real terms, this means monitoring solutions should be installed at the same time as solar PV or other renewables.

As well as measuring carbon offset figures, the GBC promotes annual data reporting. This should be public, holding members accountable. The GBC has high standards: members must have their reported results verified before they can call themselves net zero carbon.

Reviewing the GBC’s reporting guidelines reiterates the importance they place on self-generated renewable energy. The template document (Appendix B in the framework) requires members to report:

  • Total energy generated by renewables
  • Displace of C02 by renewables

As you can see, this reporting framework takes it as given that members are utilising renewables.

Proper reporting of emissions is vital in the fight against climate change, so GBC is not the only framework that exists to support organisations on their journey to net zero. SCATTER is a carbon calculating framework for local authorities. It allows local authorities and city regions to standardise their C02 reporting and set green targets in line with the Paris Agreement. Unlike other frameworks, SCATTER is free of charge for local authorities.

 

Green for GBC and beyond

As you can see, embracing renewable energy is almost non-negotiable for GBC members. However, it may be prudent for non-members to also operate in line with this framework. To achieve net zero across the whole life of a building, the GBC encourages members to negotiate with low carbon suppliers and partners to “minimise embodied carbon and related liabilities for offsets”. In other words, businesses that wish to collaborate with GBC members must make net zero a priority, too.

The GBC is no small organisation: its members include key players in industry, property development, and many local authorities and universities. Perhaps businesses should consider whether they can afford not to operate within this framework. After all, everyone has a part to play in achieving net zero by 2050.

The new normal: life after coronavirus

Photo of person on a walk

The coronavirus situation in the UK develops constantly, with daily updates as experts learn more. The UK does not yet have a clear exit strategy, nor a successful vaccine. Some experts predict periods of social distancing for months.

With so much uncertainty, it’s impossible to say how much normalcy will resume, and when. We’re sure many of us have wished for things to “go back to normal” at one time or another. But the world cannot go back to how it was before coronavirus: our habits and attitudes certainly weren’t ‘normal’. Our throwaway culture and casual approach to fossil fuels were incredibly unnatural, harming ourselves and the planet.

The current lockdown has paused many of these dangerous practices, accompanied by improvements in air quality and a reduction in C02 emissions. It’s likely these figures will bounce back to normal levels when lockdown ends. But, this period of pause is encouraging people to create new, environmentally friendly habits that we hope will continue after coronavirus. Scientists are hopeful, too; research shows that times of change are powerful opportunities for encouraging new behaviours.

We must reject this preoccupation with life returning to ‘normal’. In order to overcome climate change, we must create a new normal that prioritises the health of the planet and its inhabitants. In this article, we’ll explore what that new normal could look like across sectors.

 

A transport revolution?

Passenger cars are responsible for 60.7% of C02 emissions in the EU, with the average new car emitting 120g of C02 per KM. Currently, there are very few reasons for travelling anywhere: to work, to buy groceries and supplies, and for medical reasons. Traffic levels haven’t been this low since 1955. As a result, roads and streets are quiet, and the air is clean.

With all-but-essential car travel discouraged, people have realised that they can make a lot more journeys on foot. More people are walking around their local neighbourhood for leisure and exercise, often combining this with a stop in their local grocery store.

We hope that after lockdown, people will continue to be more conscious and considerate about their car usage and C02 output. It’s encouraging to see that some steps are already being taken to make this happen. For example, Milan plans to implement a low carbon city centre infrastructure, by turning 35km of streets into cycle and pedestrian lanes.

Early research also suggests that the quiet, pollution-free streets are encouraging consumers to consider electric vehicles. In a survey by Venson, 45% of people said the improvement in air quality has made them positively reconsider their EV ownership plans. A further 17% said it reaffirmed the decision they had already made to make the switch to an EV. With consumer attitudes to EVs improving, this could increase the adoption of commercial and fleet EVs too.

 

Oil vs renewables

We think the many parallels between climate change and coronavirus will encourage more businesses to explore renewable energy, as this is one of the easiest ways for them to act against climate change.

For businesses with the capital to invest, solar PV provides the best long-term financial savings. The economic future of the UK remains uncertain, so investing in solar allows businesses to reduce their energy overheads and improve profit margins. Businesses unable to commit to their own array can still cut their energy spend with cheaper-than-grid energy through a Power Purchase Agreement.

The current state of the oil market also raises questions about the future of fuel post-coronavirus. With decreased demand due to paused manufacture and airline operations, oil is at its lowest price for two decades. While some experts believe that oil demand has now peaked and will start to decline, others believe that dirt-cheap oil prices will hinder the adoption of renewables.

The crash in oil price has highlighted its extreme volatility, and raises questions as to whether the global economy should be underpinned by a single commodity (or any commodity for that matter). In our opinion, it would be much better to build a sustainable green economy that relies on multiple diverse technologies and industry sectors working together, mitigating the risk of any one industry crashing.

 

The future of work

Due to the lockdown, remote working is now a normal practice for many businesses. While we don’t think the workforce will go fully remote post-lockdown, we think flexibility will be encouraged. The coronavirus lockdown has shown that you just don’t need to be face-to-face to do business. Travelling for meetings creates unnecessary time burdens and C02 miles.

A study by Regus suggests that working closer to our homes could save 7.8 million tonnes of C02 per year by 2030, and save 115 million hours of commuting time. Plus, employees that can work flexibly are happier, healthier, and more productive.

This embrace of remote work will continue across sectors. The Guardian predicts GP surgeries will continue to offer remote appointments after coronavirus, but why stop there? Perhaps your next appointment with your solicitor, accountant, or bank will be a virtual one.

 

Food and shopping

With the government advising to only buy essentials, shoppers are forced to consider what the essentials actually are. With most high street stores closed, people can’t pop to the shops for a bit of retail therapy. Good news, since the UK’s obsession with throwaway ‘fast fashion’ usually costs 50 tonnes of C02 every minute. However, old habits die hard; March 2020 saw a 74% increase in online shopping, as people purchase items to keep themselves entertained in lockdown.

After an initial wave of panic buying, the UK’s food shopping habits have adapted during the coronavirus pandemic. With most supermarkets prioritising vulnerable customers for delivery slots, the rest of us must venture instore for our essentials. As a result, we’re seeing a boom in popularity for food subscription services like Gousto and Hello Fresh, as well as deliveries of locally-grown seasonal veg as shoppers do their best to stay home. There has also been an increase in people shopping in local corner shops, and a general desire to support small and independent businesses.

Going forward, we hope this shift in our shopping habits proves to be a long-term change. Shopping locally, only buying the essentials, and making more conscious purchases are all vital steps in the fight against climate change.

 

Healthy planet, healthy people

While the above changes offer a crucial lifeline for our planet, they can also aid our own health, too. The coronavirus pandemic is a trying situation for many and has greatly raised awareness about the importance of mental health as part of our overall wellbeing. Going for a walk is now a part of everybody’s daily routine, and the effect lockdown has on mental health is a large part of the coronavirus conversation.

Climate change is a mammoth challenge, and shopping more locally for a few months won’t turn it around. We need a sustained change in consumer habits, led by climate-friendly policy. Consumers want green options, so the government needs to encourage businesses to provide them. The coronavirus pandemic has shown that, given the right encouragement, the public is willing to adapt their behaviour to safeguard public health and the economy. Led by the right examples and systems, there’s no reason why the British public can’t come together in the same way to take action on climate change. What a welcome thought.

Why solar PV is a must-have for the food production industry

Photo of fresh vegetables in a supermarket

Why solar, why now?

The current situation in the UK is a new experience for businesses of all sectors. For those in the food production industry, the coronavirus pandemic has provided both great challenges, and opportunities.

Following a wave of panic buying, supermarkets are trading “above Christmas levels”: customers spent an additional £2bn on food in March 2020. Along with intensive cleaning, social distancing, and staff shortages, supermarkets are hiring an additional 30,000 staff to keep up.

Of course, other players in the food industry have needed to adapt to a challenging and fast-moving situation. Hospitality has ground to a halt, but suppliers are moving into new verticals: supplying produce to the NHS, food delivery services, and easing the increased burden on supermarkets. Customer panic buying has not helped, creating empty shelves one week, and an increase in food waste the next.

Despite the hardships, the current situation also provides opportunities. This ability to adapt shows the food industry can think on its feet and is ripe for disruption. If, going forward, food producers are to re-evaluate the way they operate, what better time to embrace the power of renewables. Solar PV can help businesses save money, increase profits, and gain a competitive advantage.

 

Bespoke solar PV for the food industry

There are several common traits among food producers that make them an ideal candidate for commercial solar PV.

Like most manufacturers, those in the food industry typically use a lot of energy: machinery, refrigeration, and processing are all energy intensive. Such costs will only increase as firms become more automated and reduce their labour costs. The higher a firm’s energy bill, the more money they can save by generating their own solar energy. Additionally, even small to medium-sized facilities have ample roof space to install an unobtrusive system on an otherwise unused space.

As well as high usage, the energy load profile for food producers typically peaks during daylight hours. This means any self-generated solar energy can be used in real-time, ensuring the maximum benefit from the installed system. However, businesses with high night-time energy usage can also reap the benefits of solar with an additional battery storage system.

 

Financial benefits of solar

Other than materials and labour costs, energy is often one of the greatest expenses for food manufacturers. Securing lower energy costs is one of the easiest ways to gain control over your business costs. The price of electricity from the grid will climb, sometimes erratically. But solar provides long-term fixed energy costs, protecting your business from market volatility and allowing you to grow sustainably.

By cutting energy expenses, businesses can improve their bottom line and become more profitable. This also frees up budgets to invest elsewhere, such as business growth, or expansion into new verticals.

Although solar PV provides long-time financial benefits, finance is also one of the biggest barriers to adoption. Many companies feel they cannot justify the up-front expense of installing their own solar, especially in uncertain times. These customers can benefit from a Power Purchase Agreement: a finance option that allows customers to achieve on-site solar, without the usual upfront investment. You can find out more about PPAs in this article.

 

Providing a competitive advantage

By now, we all know how solar can tie into a business’s CSR initiatives. A solar array is a very visual signal of an organisation’s commitment to sustainability. This is especially important for B2C food producers. Consumers are becoming increasingly environmentally conscious, and many will pay more for a greener option.

Even if you’re a B2B organisation, remember this: there’s always a consumer at the end of the supply chain. Players in the food sector such as caterers, manufacturers, and stockists may all be more inclined to choose a sustainable option to appease consumers. A stronger green policy could give your organisation an edge over its competitors, as many market leaders seem to prioritise suppliers that meet certain environmental credentials. Marks & Spencer encourages suppliers to work through its sustainability benchmark scheme: 56% of their food products comes from sites that have reduced their energy use by at least 20%. Unilever also has its own mandatory requirements for suppliers, in line with the brand’s sustainability policy.

 

Green from ‘farm to fork’

When you’ve been in the renewables industry as long as we have, you spot certain trends emerge. When we first started out, agriculture was one of the first sectors to embrace the financial benefits of solar. Now, they’re embracing renewables to engage in environmental stewardship – and it’s time for the rest of the food supply chain to catch up.

Growers and farmers are already saving carbon and energy by adopting solar, but it is critical that the often more energy-intensive and polluting parts of our food supply chain, from processing to distribution, adopt a similar stance if we are to be truly green from farm to fork.

Despite the challenges we all face, there is also the opportunity to reflect and strategize about the future direction we wish to take, a future where sustainability is the new normal.

What the coronavirus means for climate change

Image of chimneys releasing air pollution

As life takes on an unfamiliar shape during lockdown, many media outlets are quick to draw parallels between life under coronavirus and the effects of unchecked climate change. Scientists have long forecasted that food shortages and economic downturn could accompany climate change, should it continue at its current rate.

While both the coronavirus and climate change are natural phenomenon, their root is human activity. In fact, the two even share common causes. The human population is spreading into increasingly wild areas, due to over-population, over-farming, and deforestation: all causes of climate change. When human life is closer than it should be to the wild, this also increases the spread of infectious diseases. Over 75% of infectious diseases emerge from the wild.

However, there is a key difference between coronavirus and the climate crisis. Thanks to decisive, state-enforced action, scientists and leaders agree that we will overcome coronavirus eventually – even if we don’t know when. The same cannot be said of climate change. While this threat is less immediate, it remains, with no clear strategy past it.

When it comes to fighting climate change, we can learn a lot by examining how the human and natural worlds have negotiated coronavirus.

 

Nature is winning vs coronavirus

During this challenging time, we’d like to start by focusing on the positives. With humans on home lockdown, nature has already started to reclaim newly vacant spaces.

In the town of Llandudno, Wales, mountain goats have moved into the now quiet streets. In Italy, the water quality has improved greatly, and there are now dolphins inhabiting the usually busy harbours.

Across Europe, levels of air pollution have fallen dramatically, due to a 60% reduction in car journeys during lockdown. As well as being harmful to health, pollution in the atmosphere can also damage the ozone layer and contribute to climate change. graph of air pollution in coronavirus lockdown

Dr Phillip Williamson, a professor at the University of East Anglia, is positive about this reduction in emissions. He estimates that this provides the world with another year or two to “avoid a climate catastrophe”.

 

Challenges ahead

As ever, we urge against too much optimism in the climate change fight: we cannot be complacent.

While wildlife is recovering in some areas, coronavirus has made conservation almost impossible in others. Here, some of the world’s most vulnerable wildlife will suffer.

It is also likely that emissions and air pollution will bounce back quickly after the lockdown ends. There may even be more: following the 2008 financial crisis, emissions rose by 5% due to government stimulated booms in production.

Fighting climate change and decarbonising society is an expensive battle. If the fight against coronavirus depletes national budgets, there will be less to invest in a greener future. The Guardian reports that coronavirus could cost the global economy $1.1tn in lost income, alone.

There are also potential challenges ahead for the renewables industry. In uncertain times, businesses are less adventurous with their spending, and may feel less inclined to invest in renewables. Many solar projects are on pause due to the lockdown, and there may be temporary supply chain disruption.

 

Lessons learnt

When the world emerges at the other end of the coronavirus pandemic, climate change will still be there. But we hope the world can take valuable lessons learned now and apply them in the fight against global warming. Perhaps we’ll all take the climate threat a lot more seriously, now we know first-hand what a threat to society looks and feels like.

There are some coronavirus habits we hope will continue: rethinking our attitudes towards food. Over the last few weeks, the Royal Horticultural Society and National Vegetable Society have reported an increase in people growing vegetables at home. This is great for the environment, as it means zero food miles and no C02 emissions. We’re also seeing people become more appreciative of nature in their local areas.

Like coronavirus, Governments must take strong decisive action on climate change in order to stop it in its tracks. While communities have been pulling together to fight the virus, the direction is set from above. So far, climate change has mostly been tackled from the bottom: by grassroots movements, and dedicated individuals and businesses.

While nobody wants heavy-handed state intervention in order to tackle climate change, government and local authorities can, and should, do more. If businesses are less inclined to invest in renewables due to economic uncertainty, green options should be incentivised and subsidised. Authorities should lead by example, embracing renewables for their facilities, and encouraging it among the public sector.

We’re heartened to see that several local authorities are already taking steps in the right direction. The Liverpool City Region has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2040, and Eastleigh Borough Council aims to ensure its own operations and functions achieve carbon neutrality by 2025. For local authorities keen to do more, Friends of The Earth has some great resources that can help. In our opinion, the increased use of renewables is imperative here.

The global response to coronavirus gives us hope. It shows that great things are possible when we pull together. But we cannot wait until the climate change crisis reaches pandemic-level severity. By then, it’ll be too late.

 

How do you think coronavirus will impact climate change? Let us know on LinkedIn, Twitter, or get in touch.

Solving the misconceptions around commercial EVs

Photo of two EVs and EV charger

EV Myths: busted

The number of electric vehicles (EVs) on our roads is growing fast. In March 2020, there were 273,500 EVs on UK roads (including hybrid and electric-only). Further stats show that 5.7% of new car registrations are electric vehicles, with 3.2% electric-only.

However, we have a way to go to meet the government’s targets: 50% of new car sales to be electric by 2030. This target is in line with the government’s strategy for cutting C02 emissions and tackling climate change.

When it comes to meeting international climate and carbon targets, we all have a part to play – especially businesses. For brands committed to fulfilling their environmental responsibilities, the course of the next year is the perfect time to explore the EV opportunity.

The Government offers several initiatives to encourage corporate uptake of EVs. Currently, employees are exempt from Benefit in Kind tax for fully electric company cars. All new EVs are subsidised, providing customers with a discount of up to £3,000. And, all businesses and household can receive a grant of up to £350 for every EV charge point they install.

While most charging takes place at home, around 30% of people charge their EV at work. As uptake in electric cars increases, businesses will find themselves under pressure to provide more charge points for employees. These government initiatives won’t last forever: the EV charge point grant has already reduced from £500 to £350. Futureproofing for the EV revolution now allows businesses to do so at the most affordable opportunity.

Unfortunately, there are still a lot of myths about commercial electric vehicles.

To set the record straight, we asked Andrew Verney – our EV charging consultant – to help us bust some common misconceptions about electric vehicles. Andrew has driven an electric vehicle for the last five years and is our trusted advisor on all EV installations.

 

EV range is not good enough for commercial use

When EVs were first developed, the limited battery capacity meant they were unsuitable for long journeys.

Now, most new EVs have a range of at least 150 miles between charges. Some, as much as 200-300 miles. Most car journeys are, of course, much shorter than this. According to the RAC Foundation, the average commute is just 10 miles in England and Wales.

Even for customers that regularly make longer journeys, a range of 150-200 miles should be enough, as the AA recommends all drivers stop for a 15-minute break every 2-3 hours. If you’re stopping anyway, you might as well charge your car for 30 minutes.

EV drivers do currently have to plan their routes more carefully than other car-owners. Not all service stations have facilities to charge EV vehicles yet – but this will change soon!

 

EVs are much more expensive

It is more expensive to buy a new EV: about 20% more than an equivalent fuel vehicle. But, new EVs are subsidised by the government to make them more affordable.

However, running an EV is around six times cheaper than a fuel car. While petrol or diesel costs around 12 pence per mile, you can charge your car overnight at home for two pence per mile. Most energy providers offer tariffs that give EV owners a good window to charge cheaply at night. Some public spaces even offer free EV charging.

Maintaining and servicing an electric car is also much cheaper. They only have about 5% of the same moving parts as a fuel car, so there’s simply less to maintain.

 

EVs take a long time to charge up

In most cases, charging an EV is something that takes place in the background. Unlike fuelling a car, you rarely go somewhere specifically to charge an electric vehicle. There are a range of different charging options, some of which take longer than others. However, the charging option (and speed) always suits charge point location.

The most popular option is home charging, usually overnight to make the most of cheaper energy tariffs. This is the cheapest option, but also the slowest: they charge at around 10-30mph. However, this slow speed is irrelevant, as you’d be at home with your vehicle anyway.

The quickest are ‘rapid’ chargers. These are usually located at service stations and ‘traditional fuelling stations. Operating at 50 kw+, these charge at a rate of 180mph or more.

Then there are ‘destination’ chargers. These are slower, but they are usually located in a place you might stay for a while. Again, the charging takes place in the background. For example, a supermarket or shopping centre. These 7-22kw chargers work at about 30-90mph. Businesses typically choose ‘rapid’ or ‘destination’ chargers.

EV charge technology is constantly advancing. Some ‘ultra-rapid’ public chargers are being installed in the UK that will provide 180 miles of charge in ten minutes.

 

There are not enough EV charge points

As previously mentioned, not all service stations feature EV charge points. As interest in EVs rises, public charge infrastructure will scale accordingly. While there are enough, more would be appreciated.

Most EVs come with Sat Nav to find charge points, but these systems are not wholly accurate. The directory is not exhaustive and cannot inform you if an EV charge point is out of order. This means many EV drivers rely on a mobile app to plot routes around EV chargers.

A flat battery is the biggest fear about EVs. However, it is just not that common. On all the major trunk roads, you’re never more than 50 miles away from an EV charge point. Plus, every EV comes with a cable that can be plugged in to charge at a normal 13-amp house socket. In an emergency, you can technically charge at any building – provided the cable reaches.  Take a look at Zap-Map to see over 30,000 public charging sockets across the UK.

 

EVs are unsuitable for a commercial fleet

Currently, there’s not much choice for electric vans and trucks. A wider range of options will emerge in the next year.

Infrastructure changes are also required. Employees who take a company van home would need to charge the EV at their property. With at least 20% of the population lacking off-street parking, this poses a potential challenge. Employers would also need to reimburse employees for charging their EV from their home energy supply.

For travelling tradespeople, there’s also the issue of charging at their destination (where necessary). There’s currently not a lot of on-street public charge points available, although this will increase shortly.  RenEnergy is working to fit EV charge points into Council car parks, where they can be used overnight by local residents who don’t have access to a personal charge point.

For now, EVs are more suitable for ‘last-mile delivery’. Many delivery drivers travel less than 100 miles per day and often return their vehicles to a depot overnight: perfect for EV charging. EVs are also more efficient for journeys that require a lot of stop-starting (such as deliveries): an electric engine completely stops when it is not in use. This means no idling and much less pollution.

Gloucestershire Constabulary is already embracing the potential of EVs. They have the largest electric fleet in the country: 21% of their fleet is fully electric.

 

EVs are unsuitable for commuters

Again, this is untrue. Unless your commute is over 50 miles each way, you should be able to comfortably commute on a fully charged EV battery.

More businesses are installing on-site EV chargers to meet employee demand – especially large companies. Remember, businesses can also receive the £350 grant for each EV charge point they install.

One thing that companies will need to negotiate is how they bill staff for the electricity to charge their vehicles. We expect that most businesses will charge employees through an app or card, just to cover the energy costs and maintaining charge points.  Some employers are offering free electricity to staff, and RenEnergy is working to install EV charging in solar carports, to help provide the renewable electricity required.

 

EVs are unpleasant to drive

Personally, I disagree. They’re much smoother and easier to drive.

They’re also much smarter than a normal car. On a cold winter’s morning, you can warm your car via an app on your phone, before you’ve even got out of bed. And when you’re in your house at night, you can check your app to ensure your car is plugged in and charging.

This level of communication is beneficial if you have solar panels. If your home array is generating a surplus of energy that would otherwise go back to the grid, you can choose to use this energy to charge your car. If not, the system knows to charge the car only using the cheap overnight grid energy.

After five years, I’m a true EV convert: I can’t imagine going back to a ‘normal’ car now.

 

Want to find out? Check out our EV charging page or get in touch with Andrew.

Your guide to Power Purchase Agreements

Photo of Briar Chemicals solar panels installed under PPA

PPAs explained

In uncertain times, making a large business investment may be the last thing on decision-makers minds’. Although solar PV offers significant long-term benefits and saving, it is rarely an essential operational expense.

However, there is an option for businesses that wish to adopt cost-effective and environmentally friendly energy without making any upfront investment. A Power Purchase Agreement provides businesses with solar electricity at a lower-than-market rate. It is the perfect option for environmentally conscious businesses that are looking to reduce their running costs but don’t have the spare budget to invest upfront.

 

What is a Power Purchase Agreement for solar?

Power purchase agreements are a funding option that allows businesses to benefit from ‘free’ solar panels.

The most traditional funding option for solar panels is CapEx. A business pays for its own solar, which is installed on their property. The business then uses self-generated solar energy, reducing their energy spend. If any extra energy is needed, it is drawn from the grid as usual.

A Power Purchase Agreement works differently. In this case, the installer enters into a long-term lease agreement with the customer, ‘renting’ the customer’s roof or ground space for a nominal fee. They then install solar panels, at no expense to the customer. Once completed, the customer then purchases their solar energy from the installer at a reduced rate.

At the end of the lease, ownership of the panels transfers to the customer. This is usually around 20-25 years, but solar PV arrays have a useful lifespan of up to 40 years. That means totally free, clean energy for the remaining 15-20-year life.

PPA solar is generated in exactly the same way as CapEx, and the installation process is the same too. The only difference is that the customer acts as the landlord, and does not own their solar panels until the end of the agreed PPA term.

 

 

What are the benefits of a PPA?

Like all solar PV installations, a PPA solar can significantly reduce your energy spend. Your installer will always sell the solar energy at a price cheaper than the market rate for grid energy. Additionally, a PPA can safeguard your business long-term against energy price hikes. The cost of energy is always rising, but this protects your business from erratic market fluctuations.

Reducing your business’s energy spend in turn helps to improve your company’s bottom line. For businesses with tight profit margins, this is incredibly valuable. It also frees up budget to invest in growth elsewhere.

One benefit of a PPA that does not apply to CapEx customers, is the exemption of business rates for solar. Unfortunately, some customers that buy and install solar on their premises are subject to an increase in business rates. The solar is seen as an asset, and makes the property more valuable. Since the government alleges to support businesses going green, we can only hope this anomaly is rectified soon. However, businesses can negotiate this by achieving solar through a PPA. The solar asset is owned by a separate entity, so the customer is not liable for an increase in rates.

Of course, the benefits of a PPA stretch beyond finance. Customers now favour sustainable brands, and will even pay more for products that are environmentally friendly. Solar panels are a very visible indicator of your company’s commitment to our planet. Your business’s green credentials could be what distinguishes your company from a competitor.

Like all investments, solar performs much better when it is carefully managed: that means thorough cleaning and servicing. While CapEx customers must arrange and finance operations and maintenance services for their own solar panels, this is included within PPA packages. This means customers benefit from regular panel cleaning and maintenance, reassured that their array is generating at its maximum capacity.

 

 

Anything else to know about Power Purchase Agreements

We’re always up-front with our customers: a Power Purchase Agreement will not save your business as much money in the short term as owning your own PV system. However, if your business cannot justify the upfront expense and ongoing running costs a power purchase agreement is a great option. Much better than no solar at all!

There are no minimum energy usage requirements on our PPAs. This means they can suitable for businesses of all sizes, with any energy usage profile. However, sites with large annual energy consumption will stand to save the most money and carbon.

And finally, rest assured that Power Purchase Agreements are flexible and non-binding. Should your business move away from its current premises, the PPA can be transferred to the new occupants with ease.

 

 

PPA case study: Briar Chemicals

We partnered with Briar Chemicals to provide a large-scale ground array through a power purchase agreement.

Based in Norwich, Briar Chemicals is committed to providing high-quality chemical products in an environmentally friendly way. With profit margins tight in the manufacturing sector, a PPA provided a sustainable option for the business to improve its bottom line.

The 1.9 MW array features 6,500 solar panels and 76 inverters. Each year, the system generates 1,800,000 kWh of electricity: enough to power 400 homes. It also saves 860,000 kg of C02. Over 70% of the electricity is consumed on-site and the rest is exported elsewhere, easing pressure on the local energy grid.

It was our pleasure to work with this iconic local brand, and we’re pleased to say Briar Chemicals were impressed with the results.

Tim Green, Executive Director and Site Manager said: “This is an exciting project; it will allow us to use power generated from the sun and use it within our manufacturing processes.  This will enable us to focus on the production of cost-effective high-quality chemicals, knowing that we are doing so in an extremely environmentally friendly way.”

 

For more information, check out our PPA product page, or get in touch.